It needs to be said that very little of what I wrote matched his views, but he tolerated them, and I appreciated that.
When I left the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1987 to freelance, he was the first one I contacted. He had the reputation of being one hard nut.
I went to see him and showed him a couple of (sample) columns. He took a look at them, was really gruff and rough, and two days later he bought them.
He had a model daily newspaper. He not only reported the news, it was an active, dynamic watchdog in the area. Public officials were and are absolutely terrified of the MDJ, and that’s a good thing, and we don’t have much of that kind of journalism anymore. It’s the kind of journalism that keeps people in the middle of the road.
He also saw the need to cover local news. So he filled the paper with local news and prep sports and school news, stuff people had a personal interest in.
He’ll be sorely missed, but his legacy will be carried on by the staff he left behind. I’m sure (his son) Otis recognizes his legacy and will carry it forward.
Nobody else (in Georgia journalism) had the impact that Otis did. In the Civil Rights era the Atlanta paper had Ralph McGill as editor, but he was a writer. Otis’ strength was as a writer without a byline. He was the man behind the scenes who knew how to organize a newspaper and keep on top of the news.
He manufactured a newspaper that appealed to the local community and was a cause for community good, and it is without equal in the entire state in that regard.
Otis was a throwback to the old investigative papers. Once they got their teeth in a story they just kept covering it, even on days when there wasn’t much happening, they would find one new quote from somebody to help keep the story going.
And he was a champion without equal of Open Meetings and Open Records. It didn’t matter if it involved someone close to him or not. When that person decided he was going to close the door on the public, he had Otis and his newspaper to deal with.
And I don’t know of any other newspaper that covers education like he did. And though he was a very wealthy man, he had a feeling for how important public schools were to the community and the good of the country.
Retired syndicated MDJ and Atlanta newspaper columnist Bill Shipp is regarded as the unofficial "dean" of Georgia journalists.